Let’s be honest, in today’s world, there’s a lot of fake stuff out there. Fake meat. Fake AirPods. Fake eyelashes. Fake social media accounts. Fake babies. You name it. And while something being fake doesn’t make it inherently evil or wrong—I personally enjoy drinking out of my fake Hydro Flask and seeing our beautiful, fake Christmas tree go up each year—there is a danger when we adopt the “fake is better” societal construct into our own lives and character.
But don’t take my word for it.
The Potemkin Villages In Our Lives
In a recent General Conference address, Elder (then President) Dieter F. Ucthdorf told the illustrative story of Potemkin villages. Summarized, A Russian Governor named Grigory Potemkin once wanted to impress Catherine the Great as she toured his area of governance. While floating down the river, the governor was quick to point out prosperous villages and their happy inhabitants along the shore. Sadly, these were merely pasteboard facades which were then transported to the next bend around the river as Catherine and her company floated along. It was all for show. President Uchtdorf warns against creating similar Potemkin villages in our lives—facades of deception and disingenuousness.
It is part of human nature to want to look our best. It is why many of us work so hard on the exterior of our homes and why our young Aaronic Priesthood brethren make sure every hair is in place, just in case they run into that special someone. There is nothing wrong with shining our shoes, smelling our best, or even hiding the dirty dishes before the home teachers arrive. However, when taken to extremes, this desire to impress can shift from useful to deceitful.
Do You Wear A Mask?
Deceit—”keeping the truth hidden, especially to get an advantage.” I don’t think anybody wants to be full of that in their life. Nevertheless, we may all have times in which we feel justified in wearing a mask of deception. Perhaps we withhold the full truth from someone in order to “protect” them. Maybe the person we are when meeting with our boss, giving a talk in church, confronting an angry driver, on the basketball court, or returning home to our family resembles more closely a multi-headed hydra than a sincere disciple of Jesus Christ.
I’ve certainly felt this way before. Two-faced. Wearing a mask. FAKE.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we are going to be the exact same in any given situation. Giving formal handshakes to your children and bear hugs to your boss isn’t what President Uchtdorf meant when he said being insincere has caused us to “…[lose] our focus on the essence of the gospel.” But there are times when we may unnecessarily shift our behavior or character in a manner that is inconsistent with what the Lord expects from us. In rectifying the ramifications of this potential change, it is important to ask ourselves the following question: “Does my behavior come from a place of pride or as an effort to “glorify [my] Father which is in heaven.”‘?
Christ taught that we should be sincere and transparent with anyone we meet. We are to treat a destitute beggar the same we would a mighty king. He said,
Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Matthew 25:40).
The way we treat those around us—especially those who may have nothing to give us—reflects greatly the measure of genuineness in our lives. A popular line from Sirius Black found in Harry Potter captures this idea perfectly.
If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.
Ask yourself, “How do I treat those around me?” “How do I treat the fast food employee when I’m in the drive-thru?” “How do I treat the
annoying deacons in my ward?” Honestly answering these questions may help us to recognize changes we need to make in being more genuine.
Following the Savior’s Example
In looking at the Savior’s earthly ministry, it is clear to see that Christ truly was “no respecter of persons.” He dined with sinners, healed those who were physically sick, and rescued those who were spiritually lost. Regardless of an individual’s prestige, material wealth, or righteousness, Jesus treated all with genuine love and compassion. Furthermore, Christ spoke against those that were two-faced when speaking on the subject of fasting.
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly (Matthew 6:16-18).
Christ strongly condemns those who change face in order to be rewarded by the world. Though this practice may result in temporal popularity or praise, being something you are not will never result in enduring joy in this life or the life to come. Contrastingly, an eternal award from Heavenly Father awaits those who do things for the right reasons.
“It Mattereth Not”
Being genuine should not be conditional upon who we are interacting with, but inherently embedded into our daily lives. Indeed, “it mattereth not” whether the rain is pouring down in our life or we feel someone else is in the wrong, treating us poorly, or acting fake themselves. Each day we have the opportunity to reflect the actions of the Savior by “cleansing the inner vessel.” Though life may be difficult or unfair at times, the Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that our success and happiness is contingent primarily upon the choices we make.
This all comes back to following Christ. We must do our best to think of Him daily and strive to be more like Him. Elder Ucthdorf promised that as we do so, “we will resist the temptation to draw attention to ourselves and instead strive for a far greater honor: to become humble, genuine, disciples of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
So the next time you see a fake product advertised on television or in a local shopping center, take that as a reminder to strive for genuineness in your own life like the Savior would.